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00:30:00

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Steven 5, China 2, Camera 1, Us 1, Unreal 1, Sachy 1, Requequestion 1, Johnny 1, Matzu 1, Tomoko 1,
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  SFGTV2    [untitled]  

    October 20, 2012
    6:00 - 6:30pm PDT  

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i sat down and thought about the story my mother told me about her brother being ill. he at one point went from hong kong to japan to recuperate. he was the one that wanted to be an artist and wanted to paint. i thought about that because it must have been hard growing up in hong kong to be far away from everything and have a dream and get sick at this point. i thought u is there a story here? that's the way it begins for writers. people think things jump out and we have it in our head. it's the opposite we have nothing in our head. we turn on the machine and praying for something to come. with women of the silk i researched for 6 amongs and read and read and read. in one book i found 2 lines
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about the woman silk workers and knew immediately that's hai wanted to write about. it came to me like a dream that every writer prays for that you just knew you wanted to write about this. with the second book it was difficult i sat down and didn't know what i was going to write for about 6 months. which was fearful for me because of the fact i knew i didn't have the second book. steven's story, i asked myself questions. a lot of writers do that that's usually how i begin. what did he do? who did he meet when he got off the train? who was this man servant? what was his life about? it all began with the seeds and the particular questions, as simple as that. although, then, i had to answer them. what i had done is i usual low don't work with an out line.
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a lot of writers do they will out line what will happen and sometimes they have to because like if you are writing a mystery you need to write out the plot. i write about characters the characters drive the story. when that hatched i sat down and said, what happens is, a, he arrived and gets off the train what's going to happen. >> i know z, he would get on the train and leave at the evented book. i didn't know the alphabet in between. i was nervous and i took one step at a time very japanese like. i began to study and read everything i could find on the japanese culture. the incredible thing was not having everything that went into it and it still became a quiet book. there is a tsunami. there's tv and lep easier and a
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fire. i call it my zen book i think it's because as i was learning about the japanese culture, all of that started to go into the book. and it gave me the structure of what the book would become, which was very much taking after what a japanese garden it. early on a read about gardens. you don't know where you are going you just read. because japanese gardens are a huge aspect on the culture i started reading on gardens. i love the natural and the idea on how they use the gardens and how much it reads to them i started reading. i read a line like the silk worker line where it embraced me and i thought, that's what i would write about. you never walk from the front gate to the front door in a straight line it's always a curving path in which you discover things along the way.
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i said, that's it. he lands, he gets off the train and slowly he would walk down this path and discover the story of this caretaker along the way. it began to move. but, you know, when i speak of it it seems like it's simple. it was not simple. this month of thinking about things. this is times of writing things down and thinking it doesn't work. and i'm incredibly fortunate i have a writer's group i have written with and shown my work to for the last. we are trying to figure it out on the way over. i brought some of the audience with me. this is what you do when you are a writer. you never know who will come who read a book in 1985 so you bring audience with you. when did we get together? then we thought, how old are we?
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we can't be that old. we have been together pushing 20 years, is it? something like that. they have seen things from the very beginning of my career. and they have told me thing in which i could just kill them for. down the line it's like water off my back. not that i don't listen:the difference is everything they tell me i know it for my own good like a member of your family like your mother or brother would tell you or somebody who loves you a lot tells you. you may not like it but you take it. so many of the books are their books because that. even though when i'm not writing because sometimes they don't see the entire book all the way through because i'm rush to get it. but they are so there because as i'm writing and turn on the
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computer they are sitting on my shoulder. i hear them say, don't do that. or, if you do that, you will be in trouble when you bring did to the group. it's the learning process and they have done that with me for every book. with women of the sill ik they were good in helping with that and samurai of the garden i thought they would say, what's she doing. >> i'm writing a quiet book about a japanese seaside village and the man has tb and the woman had leparcy. it doesn't matter. my editor doesn't get to see it until it's finished but these ladies do. even if she said put it in your drawer and take it out when you are 80, which is around the corner, it would be fine because they wouldn't say they liked it
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if they didn't kind of thing. i felt comfortable to keep going. i'm not adjust saying this because they are in the audience but because when i see them i think of the things going back. i don't say that every time samurai garden come up and i see it. i say it because it brings up memories even though it was 1990. it brings back writing process memories that's very helpful to me now even as a writer. if i didn't have them i don't know what i would do, kind of thing. with samurai's garden i brought it and they never know what to expect from me. one said today, you never write the same story. i always feel i am writing the same story in all the books i have written because there are themes that go through my books consciously i don't sit down and say i will write about duty. or i will write about family.
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or i will write about world war ii god forbid. it somehow goes through every book i have done even when i tried not to. samurai garden is an example of quintessential set before world war ii, both of my cultures and everything i wanted to do and taught me what it meant to be japanese. that's taking liberty to saying taught me what it means to be japanese. i can't know exactly what it means to be japanese but it gave me a culture. a culture i realize that was a lot japanese. even though i hadn't grownup in it and i was as american as apple pie in so many ways that i started to learn more about the culture and i thought, i'm more japanese than chinese in many ways. this book gave that to me. that was the greatest gift of the samurai's garden.
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that and the fact that somehow people kept reading it. it was the book i was worried about and i had sent it to my editor and she called. i'm telling you the gossip stuff now. i think in a way that's more interesting. i was very nervous because i didn't know how she would receive this book. she called and said to me, well, it's very different. [laughter] and then nobody said anything. i didn't say anything and she didn't i didn't know what to say different good or bad so just with quiet. she said, i think this about part of -- she talked to me about story lines. i realized wow, they are going to publish it. and we talked about it as we would talk about a man script
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that would be accepted. i'm thinking, i can't believe they are going to accept this book. it was a crazy writing experience because of all the books i had written half the book. i had half the book to write before it was due in terms of a contract. we sign a contract and they put a due date on it that was the only book i felt i had to get in on time. since then i have not done it since. i tell everybody -- in my second book i thought you had to get the book right when they say you need. you should, i shouldn't say to you aspiring writers out there. i had a month and a half to write half of a book. you know in the first half took a year and a half. i was teaching simultaneous, i was writing on the weekends and trying to write as fast as i could but it was researching. i was trying to learn the culture and understand it enough so it would be part of the book.
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i began -- i rented a place in lake tahoe and sat there for the entire month of august. it was september ninth or something. i had summer break from teaching and i just sat down from the time it was morning to the time it was cocktail hour. i always say this because cocktail hour got earlier everyday because it was so hard to write this book when i had to write it in a certain period of time like that. what i had done finally, in the end, when it's done i thought it was the perfect situation. i had to be in that situation to write this particular book because that was the situation that the character steven was in. he was in a place he didn't want to be. he was far from people he wanted to be close to. he was not in his territory. that's how i felt writing by myself, far from home, not
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wanting to do it everyday from the time i got up to the time i got drunk but i did. and the second half was written all in a month. and it worked for this book. i can't say it might work for every other book it probably wouldn't work for any other book. i started this book in third person and thought for sure as a young man's voice in first person. i went in third person and i was 5 pages in and said, this doesn't sound right or read right, something's wrong. i went back because i learned from my first book, you have to think about voice and where it's coming from. i went back and put it in first person and realized it started to work. what i did was put it in the journal entries and it became what i should have known from the beginning because a began my
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colleges career as a film major wanting to make films not knowing i wanted to tell stories on the page and not on the screen. what i did was a stepped back and this is something one of my group members always tells me. where's at camera? what's happening? see from the camera's ankle. i realized he was too far away from everything. this book was different than the first book because in the first book i had so many voices and this book everything had to be seen from steven's point of view. when i narrowed it down the story told itself much the process of a writer is elizabeth said, you cannot be afraid to make mistakes. that's the writing process. we are making a lot of mistakes i am constantly rewriting and
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looking at something and saying, i could say it with less words. i could look at something and say, she would kill me if i did this and i would change it. there are all the things. it's a constant process. no book falls on to the page and the words don't just fall on the page. they may fall on the page and you delete half and start over. you take the one line that works and write around it. that's basically a lot of the way i write. i want to read you some and i guess i should read a little and i want to open up for questions about this book or the other books or what i'm doing now or not doing now. basically, for me i think samurai's garden another reason why love this book. everybody says, what's your favorite book? i think, they are like kids.
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you wouldn't say johnny is my favorite son. we all books at the time we need to write that book. it's hard to be an author because you have an audience and they want you to write particular books. if you don't write the book they want you to write then it's something else. but all the books are different in that way. because samurai's garden gave me the japanese culture and to a large extent samurai's garden taught me how to write. how to write in a way that i don't think i knew as well when i wrote women of the silk. it's processes like that is how i judge each book not so much is, that my best book? is that the best story? but it has to do with, what did
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i learn from writing that book. i have a friend who is a writer for 3 years trying to finish a novel. sent me an e mail. think when i first started writing we didn't have e mail. it's scary because you think you are getting e mail from a friend saying, i'm done and 2 days later you get another one and it says i'm trashing it. i'm thinking how can you write a book for 2 years and trash it. >> i put it in a box and stied it with a string and put it in a closet. that's the last i will see of it. i was thinking until she's gone and somebody gets it out and sells it for a million dollars. of course you are in the situation of you don't know what to say because we have all felt that way. there is a time in the writing
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process where you are saying, this is not good or not good enough, i could get rid of this now or you are done and you are thinking it doesn't quite work. what am i not doing right and can i salvage it or not. may be this si writing exercise that took 5 years. all the things that are going through or mind. i wrote her and i said, i thought about this not only for her but for my own sake it was a little selfish. i wrote back and said to her, thinking back on all the books i have written and okay, not every book is the same book you would write now if you did them but why did i write that book at that time. i said, i think the reason sometimes we write books is to get to the next one. and may be, may be this book you had to write even though nobody
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was going to see it but for yourself. i thought, should i send this? i'm being presumptuous saying you have to write this book to get to the next which will be better. i thought, we are writers, we know how it is i can send this. so what if she doesn't talk to me for a year she will get over it. i sent it. within an hour an e mail came back and all it was was, you are right. she finished the next one. the bulk of the first draft in 6 months. so, you know, i mean, who knows. so i felt this way to a large extent. it was not easy it was hard in a lot of ways because of the culture and the story and because of getting it right but i thought it helped me as a writer. so i will sip not gin and read a section and i will throw it open
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and see if you can ask me something that you might be interested in instead of hearing me speak. whoa has read this book? do i need to explain? no. [laughter] i was -- i had written, 3 quarters of the book and i was getting tired of only seeing from the point of view of steven. sometimes you get bored with your own character and your own voice because it was coming from his point of view only i thought how would i get another voice in here. this is the fun part of write itting makes you creative. when you get in a jam you think of things you might not normally do. i thought i need to get other voices in here and i will do this. when sachy goes up to the
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village. the leper lady when she starts telling him the story her voice come in. i thought to myself, thank god. i could write a section in her voice and not only be in his voice. those things don't come until you need to work them out. that stumped me for awhile and came to with when she and the other villagers who contract lepercy decide to kill themselves to not bring shame to the village. and she can't do it. the man servant who's story that steven slowly finds out rescues her. >> even now i feel the cold waves pushing and pulling against my legs as a stood knee deep in the ocean. there was a flock of birds flying over head.
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their voices leading us on. as the water lapped around me i saw a man the father of a school friend walk straight into the ocean he never turned back. one moment he was there and in the next he was swaulode by the sea. one woman took a knife and slashed her wrists. i remember how the bloodstreamed down her arms. she turned toward me with a strange smile handed me her knife. it felt so light. i looked down and saw it covered with the woman's blood. i wanted to scream and saw i lost my voice. don't be frightened, the old woman said, find the knife and
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end your misery return honor to your family. i know i didn't have the courage of the woman dying before me. when she reached toward me i pushed her back and she fell to our knees crying out for me to end her life as the waves washed over her. i began running. i ran and ran away from the beach and all the death and dying. now i don't remember what i was thinking. the greatest honor i could have given my family was that was my death and i ran from it. i was frightened for not fulfilling my obligation yet there was a voice in me that told me to escape. i ran away as if it were the diseased one. at night i hid among the trees along the stretch of road. it was cold that first night alone. i was hungry. i began to think that may be death was a better way after
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all. i never before felt the black void of abandonment and i knew no one would look for me. as far as my family i ran with the others that morning. everything had been planned. we each left notes for our families hoping we would honor them in the other world i said good night to my family for the last time knows i would no longer be a burden. the only way to honor them to allow them to think i was dead. the following morning in the woods i was awaken by the sound of foot steps. if i moved i would draw attention to where i was. so i lay silent and still. hoping whoever or whatever it was would move on. i stared up through the leaves to a blue sky. it appeared sharp and clear it
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seemed unreal. when i heard the steps closer i closed my eyes and prayed to the gods. when i opened my eyes i heard breathing and feel the warmth of another body it was so close to me. i heard his voice call out. sachy, it's me matzu, let me help you. i thought i died and went to the other wonder. matzu? spilling up from the leaves like a wounded animal. i forgot everything even the shame of allowing him to see me. he began to laugh is that you or the fox cot. it was the first time he joked with me he had been so quiet. it wasn't the time for laughter i was tired and hungry if i had been the god i might have been made food and water appear.
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it was my good fortunate that matzu found me. i had been looking for you all night. are there others? i could barely get the words out. they think you have gone to a better world how do you find me. he smaled. he opened [inaudible] and took out a bottle of green tea. the tea tasted cold and bitter i had never been more aggressively for anything else in my life. he brought rice cakes and dried seaweed. when i finished i bowed and asked, how do you know i was here? tomoko. what about tomoko i asked? matzu gathered the food and wrapped it up. i followed you and the others down to the beach yesterday morning. i wondered if you might find
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your way to peace. i couldn't, i began to cry, turning away in shame. matzu lned over and smelled a sweat, it takes greater courage to live. [applause] >> i'm going to throw it open now to questions. so you might direct me as to what you might want to know about. as we are taping this with sfgov tv i will ask you to ask your question into the microphone so they can pick it up. and you, too will be on tv. now nobody wants to. i will ask a requequestion, wha you working on now? >> does that sound planted? it wasn't. i just finished a monster of a
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book it's a huge book, set in japan and covers the earth from 1939 and 1966 about 2 brothers and the title is a street of a thousand blossoms. if you haven't noticed we are talking about themes that run through my book. one of the things i like a lot is exploring subcultures. the lepercy. the silk working women. i like to write about groups of people who persevere and make a life on their own aside from what the general culture is doing. i find that i don't consciously sit down and do that but it happens. in this particular book something that has fascinated me is sumo and sumo wrestlers and how they get so big and what
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it's like in their culture. one of the brothers becomes an sumo and that's why it's a big book! [laughter]. >> do you think that -- being a woman who is in women have been oppressed -- i don't know if they are now or not, dou think that has stimulated you in your writing coming out of that? you specifically and in general, do you feel like a lot of women have been stimulated by being part of an oppressed class? >> good question. >> very much so. i will try to answer a, b, c. for me, i know that the first thing i began to think about
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when i thought i wanted to write a novel was that i wanted to write about my culture. and because i had grownup in the chinese culture i wanted to write about china. i wanted to find out more about myself because of i was raised in the bay area and because i didn't know culturally a lot of things i wanted to know. i knew i wasn't going to write about myself and knew that i was not going to write about my family. but i wanted to write about an aspect about china and women. those were the 2 things i knew when i began the first book. i was fortunate enough to it stumble upon the silk working women which gave me everything i wanted. it gave me the culture. it gave me a sense of what it meant to be a female chinese women in that time and a sens